18 April, 2015

Of Emperor Moths and Disappointment

I'd been looking forward to yesterday morning's course field trip to the Devil's Spittleful for ages. Lying just east of Bewdley and the Wyre Forest, the site comprises to a large extent of heathland, with smaller areas of dry grassland and deciduous woodland - perfect habitat for Emperor Moth!

Even though we were supposed to be looking into the practicalities of managing rabbits to maintain optimum sward height (or something), I'd brought along a hand net just in case and soon had everyone tapping away at the heather bushes in the hope that an Emperor Moth might fly out.

Much to everyone's disappointment (I may have slightly played up our chances of finding it), we didn't catch an Emperor, and to make matters worse the group didn't seem to cheer up when I pulled out what I thought was a wicked consolation prize in the form of a Trifurcula immundella moth larval mine on Broom.

I mean c'mon. Look at the way the caterpillar has worked its way straight down the stem! Now that IS a mine...

Trifurcula immundella - prooaahhh!

Cladonia portentosa

Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa)

16 April, 2015

A night in the Wyre Forest


Last night I joined a crack team of local Worcestershire enthusiasts for a spring moth survey in the Wyre Forest - a large reserve in the north of the county that I've been meaning to visit since I first started Uni. Its ancient woodland is up there with the oldest and most well preserved in England, and the variety of species that depend on it is enviable - from breeding Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers, to Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the mesmerizingly beautiful but extremely rare moth Oecophora bractella.

We set the traps up in a remote wooded valley overlooking the Dowles Brook (famous for its thriving Dipper population), and watched on as the sun dipped below the tree line and nocturnal Woodcock began to display in the chilly air above us. The scenery was so spectacular that I only wished I'd arrived earlier to fully take it all in...


The moths were equally spectacular, with a tally of over 30 species recorded by midnight. Amongst the hundreds of Frosted Greens were a couple of Blossom Underwings - one of my favourite moths and a real oak woodland speciality - as well as a nice supporting cast of Scalloped Hook-tip, Early Tooth-stripe and Streamer.

Blossom Underwing - what a peach-coloured beauty!

Frosted Green - the most common species in the traps

Early Tooth-stripe

Streamer

Scalloped Hook-tip

Dyseriocrania subpurpurella

Diurnea fagella

Psyche casta larval case on barbed wire

Assignments? Exam revision? Don't know what you're talking about. Anyway, I've got to zip off and set up the campus moth trap ready for a society event tonight! Busy times!

14 April, 2015

Scarlet Tigers like weeds and so should you!

The advantage of owning a small, poorly maintained and scruffy student garden is that it contains all the infamous weeds that are often first on a gardener's list to pull-up, but that are also essential for invertebrates. Ours is full of Hemp Agrimony and Green Alkanet, two unloved native perennials which in our garden support a thriving colony of Scarlet Tiger caterpillars.

I first found a lonely caterpillar walking along the garden patio a couple of weeks back, so it was great to return today to find that it had been joined by another six individuals all happily feeding on Alkanet and Forget-me-Knot.



The fully emerged adult of the species is a stunning moth, and despite seven years of moth-watching I'm still yet to see it - hopefully this will be the year!

13 April, 2015

Bookham Common

I joined Mick Massie and Stuart Cole - two great blokes with a plethora of natural history knowledge - for Saturday's monthly Bookham Common survey. Despite a couple of early morning rain showers, the weather was warm enough to encourage plenty of invertebrate onto the wing, and we enjoyed a few hours sharing our identification knowledge (I didn't contribute much) and recording what we could find...

Pammene argyrana

Eriocrania - one of the colourful (and extremely hard to identify) members of the genus that feeds on birch

Coleophora flavipennella/lutipennella case on Oak

Andrena clarkella - one of the first solitary bees to emerge in spring, this one was burrowing into a soil heap

Nomada leucophthalma - a parasitic bee (and convincing wasp look-alike) which specialises in stealing food from Andrena clerkella!


Blackthorn covered in Evernia prunastri lichen - looked beautiful

10 April, 2015

Garden moth update

In the garden mothing calender, April is somewhat of a transitional period. The Common Quakers and Hebrew Characters that make up the bulk of my catch in March are beginning to tail off, but they haven't quite made way for the late-spring emerging species, leaving the trap disappointingly lacking in species diversity.

It's at this time of year that dusking really comes into its own. Many of the species that spent the winter as dormant adults will be looking for suitable weather windows to get back into the air, and a mild evening spent in the garden with a hand net can be surprisingly rewarding - this Mompha jurassicella (part of a genus that isn't readily attracted to light) was flying at dusk the other evening; the 541st species recorded in the garden.

Mompha jurassicella - the 1st garden record of a species that appears to be rapidly increasing its range.

Gracillaria syringella 

Epermenia chaerophyllella

Amblyptilia acanthadactyla

Eudonia angustea

08 April, 2015

An Easter walk

Back with the family for the duration of the Easter holidays, we took a stroll through White Down yesterday - a gem of old beech woodland just south of Effingham. It's a magical yet eerie and atmospheric place to visit, with ancient Yews drooping over the chalk paths - many deformed into unusual shapes with age.

There's usually plenty of interesting wildlife on show, and in the woodland itself an array of spring plants were beginning to flower. Wood Sorrel, Barren Strawberry and Wood Anemone were looking splendid, but by far the most welcome sight of the day was the first flowering Bluebell of the spring.



Twisted Yews

With clear skies and warm temperatures it seemed like only a matter of time before a migrating Osprey or displaying Goshawk flew into view. Agonising news soon appeared at the same time on Twitter of an Osprey passing nearby Leith Hill, but it wasn't to be and the hoped for raptor never materialised over our vantage point.

I'm starting to believe that Ospreys have some kind of deep-set grudge against me - I missed two birds in the space of an hour at Grimley last spring, and then went on to miss a further two birds on Skokholm last summer; the first flew over the island whilst I was napping after a shattering morning searching for migrants, and the second had the cheek to fly over my head whilst I was eating a sandwich and chatting to guests in the observatory kitchen!


They're back!

Barren Strawberry in flower

Thuidium tamariscinum

Ctenidium molluscum (?)

Nemapogon clematella larval feeding signs on Hazel bark fungus

26 March, 2015

Last Friday...

A couple of belated images from last Friday, featuring two of the most exciting things that could possibly ever happen: a solar eclipse AND a moth-trapping session.

There was an annoying cloud covering the sun for much of the morning, but luckily it cleared a couple of minutes to spare, giving us enough time to scramble together an old shoebox with a pinhole ready for peak totality. 

Blackhouse Woods - 8 of us set up moth traps along this woodland ride, whilst a fantastic sun set behind the Malvern Hills.

Yellow Horned

Grey Shoulder-knot

The two most common species of Pug in early spring - Double-striped (above) and Brindled (below)

23 March, 2015

Nature along the Severn

A couple of miles to the north of Worcester the River Severn passes through a heavily managed area of alder and birch plantation, and I spent yesterday evening traversing the many public footpaths that criss-cross the area (branching off from the Severn Way) in search of early spring invertebrates.


Much of the woodland is heavily coppiced on rotation, leaving behind large open areas which - on such a warm day - act as fantastic sun traps for any insect emerging in the spring sunshine. The first Bee-fly and Peacock butterfly of the year were flying in the clearing above, doing their best to remind me that it is now actually spring, and nearby a couple of dung beetles were active...

Aphodius prodromus with a tiny mite attached to its leg!

Green Shieldbug

Sheltering within an isolated clump of Daffodils by the Severn was the now famous Norellia spinipes - the so called 'Daffodil fly' that gained popularity early last year thanks to the pan-species listing movement.


Norellia spinipes

Dicranopalpus ramosus on a tree trunk. This formerly rare species was first found in Bournemouth in 1957, but has since spread inland and is now fairly common throughout the country.

A quick search on coppiced hazels revealed the two commonest species of Liverwort that grow on trees...

Dilated Scalewort (Frullania dilatata)

Forked Veilwort (Metzgeria furcata)


Another extremely common bryophyte (and one of the easiest to identify), Silver-moss (Bryum argenteum) growing in a field margin.